NIAGARA COUNTY: Legislature Developing Solar Panel Collection Laws, Environmental Coordinator Warns Against Future “Tidal Wave of Waste”

Niagara County’s Legislature held their regular meeting Tuesday evening, with an initial presentation by Environmental Coordinator Dawn Timm, relaying her fears over a potential “tidal wave of waste” from solar panels in the decades to come.  The environmental expert says that in 15 to 25 years, without any type of regulatory action requiring manufacturers collect decommissioned, damaged, or outdated panels, the County may be stuck with the problem.

“A lot of this interest, if not all of this interest, is fueled by the State of New York’s initiative, called the ‘Sun Initiative,’ where they have incentivized the development of alternate energy.”  Timm added, “We feel here in the County that the State’s actions might be a bit short-sighted, as they are incentivizing these programs, but they are not offering any solutions for how to manage the waste leftover from these projects.”

Timm further explained that New York State, through their ‘Sun Initiative’, has committed to 6000 megawatts of capacity by 2025, which can range anywhere from 15 to 24 million solar panels in use.   That would be mixed residential and commercial solar panels.  For context, the Niagara Power Project generates just under 2,700 megawatts.

According to Timm, the solution to all this future waste is ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’, or EPR regulations to ensure that manufacturers deal with solar panel waste when the time comes.  “We have the manufacturers of these solar panels responsible for these products throughout their life, at the end of their use for life, or whenever they are taken out of service.”  She added that EPR regulations already exist in New York State for thermostats, certain electronics, pharmaceutical waste, and rechargeable batteries, among other items.

Also, Timm believes with the addition of EPR regulations, manufacturers in the United States will be forced to use products that are easily recyclable as to benefit their bottom line.  She noted that in the European Union, 95% of solar panels are recycled back into other solar panels, a system she would like adopted here.

Niagara County’s Legislature is expected to reconvene on this matter in June, with a written draft of proposed legislation addressing this topic. That meeting will be open for public comment.

FEATURE PHOTO: Niagara County’s Environmental Coordinator, Dawn Timm, speaks at the Niagara County Legislature Meeting (4/20).